Now that the dust has settled from Mobile World Congress, we can turn our attention to the next big thing: Samsung’s Galaxy S8 event. Samsung opted to skip its usual Barcelona unveiling, but it won't be too much longer until we can get our hands on the most anticipated Android phone in years.
After the Note7 debacle, Samsung is surely using the extra time to run a litany of battery tests on its new handset, because a lot is riding on this launch. Samsung has weathered the phablet storm fairly well, but it needs the S8 to be a major hit. And from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like it will be.
A new design
The Galaxy S series has one of the best looking Android phones out there, but it hasn’t strayed too far from its winning formula. Like Apple’s iPhone, the last few Galaxies have mainly been variations on a theme, bringing incremental improvements and material changes, but it looks like the S8 will blow our expectations out of the water.
Reports have been all over the place, but a rendering published by serial leaker Evan Blass puts it all into view. Both models of the S8 will feature “Edge” displays that wrap around the sides of the phone and feature barely-there bezels. Gone is the pill-shaped home button at the bottom, and also gone is the Samsung logo at the top—there’s just no room. The top edge of the device is just wide enough to fit the camera, speaker, and other sensors, while the bottom is a similarly sized sliver.
Edge to edge, for real
With such small bezels, the Galaxy S8 is going to be all about the screen, and it won’t disappoint. Samsung has always put its best foot forward when it comes to its Galaxy S displays, and it’s sticking with what works with the S8: Super AMOLED. Both screens will be Quad HD+ (not 4K as originally rumored), and according to a report by SamMobile, they will retain the same 1440x2560 resolution as their predecessors. However, a new manufacturing process will utilize a new material that will help it last longer and use less power. Additionally, the company has reportedly switched from the Diamond PenTile subpixel arrangement to a standard RGB stripe one, effectively increasing the subpixel count from 7,372,800 to 11,059,200. SamMobile claims the change will “provide a noticeable improvement in virtual reality environments."
Additionally, the S8 will likely adopt the same rounded display corners as found on the LG G6. Along with a spy shot showing the non-square edges, leaked spec sheets for S8 and S8+ from TechnoBuffalo and Evan Blass, respectively, reveals the two displays are 5.8 inches and 6.2 inches, but specifically makes mention of the smaller measurements for rounded corners (6.1 inches and 5.6 inches). That might seem like a massive jump over the S7’s 5.1-inch and 5.5-inch displays, and it is, but the smaller bezels should work to keep the comfort and usability roughly the same.
While most every other Android flagship phone has jumped on the dual-camera bandwagon, Samsung will reportedly be sticking to its guns when it comes to the camera. In fact, it won’t be changing much at all, sporting the same 12MP dual pixel main camera as the S7. A report in The Guardian claims that the S8’s rear shooter will “offer incremental improvements to image quality, low-light performance, and speed,” with most of the improvements happening behind the scenes. Granted, the S7 already has one of the best cameras on the block, but Google gave it serious competition for the crown with the Pixel. We know that extra megapixels don’t always make a better camera, so we’re curious to see how Samsung has improved its main shooter.
However, selfie fanatics will be happy to learn that Samsung will be upping the quality of the front camera. Blass’s leaked spec sheet shows it will have 8 megapixels, up from the S7’s 5MP one. However, like the rear camera, the proof is in the processing, so Samsung has likely made a bunch of improvements and software tweaks to bolster our selfies, too.
Chips, sensors, and scanner
The Galaxy S phone always sports the best possible processor, but this year is a little different. Qualcomm announced its Snapdragon 835 chip at CES in January, but we haven’t seen a single phone use it yet (despite Sony’s MWC announcement that it will be inside the Xperian XZ Premium when it ships in late spring). That’s likely because Samsung has exclusive rights to it. Either due to a partnership or simply because it purchased all of the ones that are available, it would appear that the S8 will be the first phone to ship with the Snapdragon 835, though others will likely follow. The chip might not bring a huge speed increase over the 820 in the S7, but the benefits in power consumption, image processing, connectivity, 4K, and charging should make the S8 an absolute beast.
Because there’s no home button on the front, the fingerprint scanner has been moved to the rear of the device. However, unlike every other phone that has added a circle to the middle of the rear of the case, leaks show that Samsung will be putting its fingerprint scanner near the top of the case, right next to the camera. It’s an odd position for sure, but before you go practicing your grip and finger calisthenics, there’s another thing to know. According to the leaked spec sheet, Samsung will be incorporating the same iris scanner found in the Note7 into the S8, which should cut down on the number of times we need to use the fingerprint scanner.
Finally, audiophiles can rest easy, as it looks like the reports of the S8 following the iPhone 7’s lead and dumping the headphone jack were greatly overblown. While it’s possible that Samsung experimented with a version of its new phone without a 3.5mm jack, it ultimately decided that it was best to leave it. Furthermore, the S8 will be tuned by AKG just like the new S3 tablet, which blew us away with sound quality. Samsung also announced at MWC that it will be bundling a pair of AKG earphones inside the S8 box.
Without a home button, the Galaxy S8 will need to offer a new kind of navigation, and it looks like Samsung will be mimicking the method used on other buttonless Android phones. According to several leaked images and videos—including a diagram (seen below) of what appears to be the S8 owner's manual—the phone will utilize virtual buttons that appear when you need them, likely similar to the method on the Pixel and other phones, by swiping down when in an app that doesn’t already work them into the interface.
While it's not entirely clear whether Samsung will allow customization of the buttons, an analysis of the leaked images by Android Police seems to indicate that Samsung will let users swap out the position, marking the first Galaxy phone that doesn't force users to navigate their phones using reversed buttons.
While Google has announced that it will finally be bringing Assistant to all Marshmallow and Nougat phones, Samsung has other plans. While it tried and failed to implement its own voice AI with S Voice, a report by SamMobile says Samsung will be leaning on the tech it acquired when it purchased Viv Labs to debut its new assistant, Bixby. It will work across nearly every native Samsung application, according to the SamMobile report: “For example, it might be come in handy inside the Gallery app where you can ask Bixby to show you pictures and videos that satisfy particular criteria (similar to Google Photos and/or Apple’s Photos app in iOS 10). S Voice is likely to be replaced by Bixby in the Galaxy S8.”
According to leaked renderings, Bixby will be accessible via a button on the side of the device, though it’s not clear whether Samsung will also include a voice command like “OK Google” or “Hey Siri.” Korea’s ET News reports that the service will initially support eight languages, including English, Korean, and Chinese, and The Guardian said the AI assistant will be able “to perform tasks such as object recognition, using the smartphone’s camera similar to Google Goggles.”
Specs and expansion
Elsewhere, the S8 will be just as water resistant as the S7, with an IP68 rating, as well as support wireless charging via an optional pad. Both phones will feature 64GB of storage with microSD card support and 4GB of RAM.
Additionally, there will reportedly be support for an expansion dock that allows the S8 to hook up to a monitor. While details are sketchy, a leaked photo from a purported S8 user manual unearthed by Android Police shows a DeX phone dock that is displaying the Galaxy screen on a monitor, and sources told The Guardian that the new dock and service will turn the phone into an “Android desktop computer, connecting to a monitor, keyboard and other peripherals called DeX (short for desktop extension).”
Price and release
Samsung announced at Mobile World Congress that the S8 will be unveiled at an event in New York City on March 29. Rumors have pegged an April release, which is in line with how Samsung’s releases generally go, with a two- or three-week preorder window between unveiling and release.
Pricing is less clear, but a research note by Goldman Sachs claimed that the Galaxy S8 could cost the company as much as 15 to 20 percent more than the S7 to manufacture due to the effect of rising raw material prices, which means that the flagship handset could jump to more than $800 for entry-level buyers. However, Apple quietly increased the price of its latest plus-sized iPhone by $20 last year, so a price increase isn’t out of the question.